I have now had my cochlear implant for a little over nine months and I thought it was about time to give everyone an update on my progress.
You may remember that I had the device switched on in early April. I was able to recognise voices and some words almost immediately, which is apparently rare, especially for someone who has not had hearing in that ear for such a long time. But the journey was far from over.
I knew I would have to do some training of my new-found hearing in my left ear but I had no idea what that training would involve. Would I have to lift weights with my earlobe? Thankfully no. Turned out that the standard training is by listening to audiobooks. They gave me Anna Karenina (which I had never read) and instructed me to listen to the book on CD whilst following the story with the physical book in my hand. The idea is to match what it is that you are hearing with the book in front of you. It took me back to the 1990s where as a child I used to listen to the gingerbread man story on cassette tape while following along with the book. Only this one didn’t have an annoying chime that sounded every time you needed to turn the page.
I am legally blind and I couldn’t see the text in the book so this method did not work for me…
Then they gave me a book of exercises designed to help me learn to hear. For example, one exercise instructed me to repeat two words that sound very similar eg. duck and truck or Ben and sin. Problem was I had to find a willing participant to do the exercises with and because of a lack of volunteers/lack of time/I am just lazy this did not work for me either. You can’t do these things without amassing a curious audience and between my embarrassment with that and the standard frustration of both parties when a parent tries to teach a child anything, (Dad was my volunteer) I gave up in a huff.
Eventually I devised my own training regime. Because of my low vision I have the voice-over switched on to all my devices i.e. iPhone and iPad etc. In doing any training exercise I had only my cochlear implant device on and not the hearing aid on the other side so when using these devices I could only work them using what I could hear from my implant. I also have an extensive library of audiobooks of my own, most of which I have now heard so many times I can recite off by heart. This mean that if I listen to them it is the same as if I was following them with a physical book.
Once the device was switched on for the first time I had to attend weekly adjustment sessions for the first four weeks. Then every fortnight for the following few months and every three months after that. Each involved a type of hearing test which as well as measuring how much I could hear, also measured how well the nerves were reacting to the implant. Adjustments to things such as pitch and volume can then be made accordingly.
On the first day of having my implant switched on, I had a constant background noise that sounded as though I was receiving a transmission from space. I could hear the odd word or two but not hold a conversation and all words sounded as though they were being spoken to me from the bottom of a swimming pool. Now the transmission noise has disappeared (this is because my nerves are getting used to have anything else on the left side), I can identify more sounds and words and if I need to I can even hold a conversation. (all be it a slow and stilted one). The words no longer sound as though they are coming from the pool. Now people just sound robotic. I also find it easier to be in noisy situations and I find it easier to participate in group conversations.
The actual device that sits on my left ear is a bit annoying though. I can’t fit it and the arm of my sunglasses on my ear at the same time, so often it’s just hanging from my head like a bizarre earing. The magnet under my skin ensures that it will not fall off. However if I flick my head forcefully enough it will go flying. I have done that the few times so far and it has resulted in my companion having to go and search for it in whatever shrubbery or clothes rack etc. that I happened to be standing next to. Miraculously I have not actually hit anyone with it yet.
There is still a lot of work to be done and the more I do the better the results that I will get. I am really happy with how it’s going so far and it has actually made my life easier already. I know there is debate over whether or not a cochlear implant is worth having. In my experience I think it is.
Nina – Marie Butler
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